It’s a tricky situation with Bertie hard to understand.
I first thought that his barking behaviour was driven by lack of confidence and some fearfulness, but as time went on I saw it wasn’t this at all.
The Spaniel mix was fine when I arrived, but when he had checked me out with a lot of sniffing, he barked at me like a warning.
The more questions I asked of the couple, the more mixed-up Bertie seemed.
He’s a mix of angry, territorial and affectionate. Most of all, he’s fiercely protective of his humans – or of anyone coming too close to them. It’s more than just protective – he resource guards them.
He would bark suddenly at the smallest thing and a moment later be friendly. It’s not that he was fearful of me or that he didn’t like me. He simply wanted to guard his resources – the couple.
We sat and talked. Some of the time he was beside me, friendly. Later he sat in front of the man, looking at me, being fussed by him. The smallest of movements from me triggered sudden aggressive-sounding barking.
I asked for his harness and lead to be put on because I couldn’t be sure that I was safe.
Bertie is completely different when the lady and gentleman aren’t with him. He stays with the father happily – until they come back when he immediately becomes aggressive with him. ‘Keep away from my humans – my food vendors!’. He resource guards them like they are something belonging solely to him and nobody else should come near.
Resource guards one from the other.
Even when the couple are sitting together, he resource guards one from the other. If he’s sitting with them on the sofa and one walks out of the room, he barks fiercely as he or she enters and walks towards them. He/she is MINE! We have quite a simple plan for this.
Like many dogs, Bertie’s not comfortable when someone walks directly towards him when out either. (See The Pulse Project) This is mainly when he’s on lead, so again, he probably resource guards the person holding the lead.
Bertie is now six years old and they adopted him a couple of years ago. Previously he had lived with a sick person who’d died. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to think perhaps he was very protective of this person.
Bertie also has always had such bad separation issues that the man now works nights so that he can be at home when the lady works. He is never left alone. The three hours each day when neither can be at home, a dog sitter takes Bertie to her house – where he is quite happy with no resource guarding of humans.
They are making huge sacrifices to do their best for him. Very possibly some of these efforts to make him happy is unwittingly contributing to the reason he resource guards them.
Bertie is simply on high alert all the time he’s with his humans, looking out for them.
How the man and the lady behave towards Bertie has a large part to play. They obey his every whim and lavish him with food for doing nothing, pouring attention on him. They behave like his slaves. What are slaves? Slaves are those who are owned and do what they are told. They are belongings.
I believe this is how Bertie perceives them, as his possessions – so he resource guards them in much the same way as he might a big bone.
For all the attention, he appears uneasy and depressed. Always worried about losing them. He’s never playful. He would be a much happier dog if they could be very consistent and given some boundaries.
The start is for them to try to act like they themselves are the ‘protectors’ and not ‘resources’. They must stop feeding him all the time as all they have become are his personal food vendors, apart from making him overweight. It not only makes him possessive of them, constantly demanding food, but also takes away the value of food for the work we need to do.
They should now use food only for rewarding and thanking him – and his meals. Working for some of his meals with it either in Kongs or sprinkled around outside should be very good for him mentally.
Turn the tables.
This should start to turn the tables. If his humans don’t behave like his servants and food machines, he should stop regarding them as his servants and food vendors – the reason he resource guards them.
Bertie now needs things to be consistent and steady. All the work they will be doing should help make him a bit less angry, unsettled and demanding. It will be a bumpy ride to start with as things gradually change and and he tries harder.
There is a lot to do, and when they have made some good progress we will take a fresh look at the situation and begin to work on being able to leave him alone.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bertie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).